Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Summary

  1. Siddhartha is the story of the journey of a young man who experiences all the riches and desires any man can have but soon becomes bored with them. He strives for a life of simplicity, peace and wisdom and finds them in an unexpected place
Key Takeaways
  1. A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an emptied heard, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was his goal. Once all of my self was overcome and had died, once every desire and every urge was silent in the heart, then the ultimate part of me had to awake, the innermost of my being, which is no longer my self, the great secret.”
  2. Realizes he knows a lot, but nothing about himself
  3. “Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has existence and is present.”
  4. Siddhartha finally realized his goal was to be able, at all times, to feel and inhale the oneness. Knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness
  5. Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness
  6. The opposite of every truth is just as true
  7. And this is now a teaching you will laugh about – “love, oh Govinda, seems to me to be the most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.”
  8. He claims he has 3 skills – he can wait, fast and think. And while these do not seem like great skills, they preclude Siddhartha from becoming impatient and making irrational decisions, he can wait to eat longer than others and can think through difficult situations or problems
  9. “It is good,” he thought, “to get a taste of everything for oneself, which one needs to know. That lust for the world and riches do not belong to the good things, I have already learned as a child. I have known it for a long time, but I have experienced only now. And now I know it, don’t just know it in my memory, but in my eyes, in my heart, in my stomach. Good for me, to know this!”
  10. The perfected ones are always smiling
What I got out of it
  1. One of the few books that have had a profound influence on me. Siddhartha’s up and down journey and how he eventually reached peace and wisdom after suffering resonated a lot with me. One must first know lust and riches and the evils it brings before one sees the true beauty of giving it up

Buy Siddhartha

The Son of the Brahman

  • Siddhartha from a young age showed a lot of promise as a Brahman
  • His biggest admirer was Govinda, another son of a Brahman
  • While he brought joy to everyone, Siddhartha himself did felt no delight in himself
  • Very good quote from Siddhartha when he starts questioning everything – “The ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not wash off the sin, they did not heal the spirit’s thirst, they did not relieve the fear in his heart. The sacrifices and the invocation of the gods were excellent— but was that all? Did the sacrifices give a happy fortune? And what about the gods? Was it really Prajapati who had created the world? Was it not the Atman, He, the only one, the singular one? Were the gods not creations, created like me and you, subject to time, mortal? Was it therefore good, was it right, was it meaningful and the highest occupation to make offerings to the gods? For whom else were offerings to be made, who else was to be worshiped but Him, the only one, the Atman? And where was Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart beat, where else but in one’s own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part? It was not flesh and bone, it was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught. So, where, where was it? To reach this place, the self, myself, the Atman, there was another way, which was worthwhile looking for? Alas, and nobody showed this way, nobody knew it, not the father, and not the teachers and wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs! They knew everything , the Brahmans and their holy books, they knew everything, they had taken care of everything and of more than everything, the creation of the world, the origin of speech, of food , of inhaling , of exhaling, the arrangement of the senses, the acts of the gods, they knew infinitely much— but was it valuable to know all of this, not knowing that one and only thing, the most important thing, the solely important thing?”
  • It [Atman] had to be found, the pristine source in one’s own self, it had to be possessed. Everything else was searching, was a detour, was getting lost.
  • After meditating, Siddhartha decides to become a Samana (wandering ascetic) and while his father at first objects, he shows his determination by not moving, or sleeping until his father wakes up and then gives his blessing. Govinda also joins
With the Samanas
  • Siddhartha was accepted by the Samanas and gave away everything and fasted for weeks at a time. He became dismayed and life was torture
  • Siddhartha questions his decisions and thinks he could have learned the same lessons (how to escape oneself) in normal life
  • “There is indeed no such thing, so I believe, as what we refer to as `learning’. There is, oh my friend, just one knowledge, this is everywhere, this is Atman, this is within me and within you and within every creature. And so I’m starting to believe that this knowledge has no worser enemy than the desire to know it, than learning.”
  • They hear rumors of a Gotama Buddha, and leave the Samanas to hear the Buddha speak

Gotama

  • Siddhartha could spot the Buddha immediately by his inner peace, lack of imitation, smiling inwardly
  • The Buddha spoke of life as being suffering, how to stop suffering through the 4 Noble Truths and the Noble Eight-fold Path
  • Govinda decides to join the Buddha’s community but Siddhartha does not
  • Siddhartha speaks to Gotama and says that his teachings are perfect but there is an error in it, there is a chink in the never ending cycle. Gotama does not disagree but says that his teachings are not an opinion, simply as things are.

Awakening

  • After speaking to Gotama, Siddhartha lost the desire to have teachers and to learn
  • That I know nothing about myself, that Siddhartha has remained thus alien and unknown to me, stems from one cause, a single cause: I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing from myself!”
  • He awakens from this realization and starts down a new path of enlightenment
Kamala
  • Siddhartha meets Kamala who promises to teach him about love if he can become rich. He gives up his Samana ways and goes to work with a merchant
  • He claims he has 3 skills – he can wait, fast and think. And while these do not seem like great skills, they preclude Siddhartha from becoming impatient and making irrational decisions, he can wait to eat longer than others and can think through difficult situations or problems
With the Childlike People
  • Works with a merchant called Kawaswami to earn money and to have a place to live
  • Siddhartha does not care if he loses or makes money with the merchant – and of course this helps him make money
  • He goes to a village to buy rice that has already been sold and instead of getting mad and turning back he makes friends with the villagers and enjoys his stay. Kawaswami gets mad but they have different priorities, priorities which will help Siddhartha in the end
  • “He saw mankind going through life in a childlike or animal-like manner, which he loved and also despised at the same time. He saw them toiling, saw them suffering, and becoming gray for the sake of things which seemed to him to entirely unworthy of this price, for money, for little pleasures, for being slightly honored, he saw them scolding and insulting each other, he saw them complaining about pain at which a Samana would only smile, and suffering because of deprivations which a Samana would not feel.”
  • Practiced the art of love with Kamala – the art of giving and taking simultaneously
  • “Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf, which is blown and is turning around through the air, and wavers, and tumbles to the ground. But others, a few, are like stars, they go on a fixed course, no wind reaches them, in themselves they have their law and their course.”
  • “…yet you do not love me, you love nobody. Isn’t it so?” “It might very well be so,” Siddhartha said tiredly. “I am like you. You also do not love— how else could you practise love as a craft? Perhaps, people of our kind can’t love. The childlike people can; that’s their secret.”
Sansara
  • The more time he spent in the material world, the more he became like normal people, childlike, and the more he began to envy them. The importance they put on their lives and actions, the amount of passion in their fears and joys, of being in love
  • This new life had made Siddhartha tired, old, sick and had quieted his spiritual voice
  • He started gambling and had become petty with his business dealings
  • Siddhartha had a dream and realized he had grown tired of this life and lifestyle. He left everything but the last time he was with Kamala he impregnated her
By the River
  • Tried to drown himself but heard the world “Om” and realized how foolish his actions were
  • Om – that what is perfect, or the completion
  • I had to pass through so much stupidity, through so much vices, through so many errors, through so much disgust and disappointments and woe, just to become a child again and to be able to start over.
  • “It is good,” he thought, “to get a taste of everything for oneself, which one needs to know. That lust for the world and riches do not belong to the good things, I have already learned as a child. I have known it for a long time, but I have experienced only now. And now I know it, don’t just know it in my memory, but in my eyes, in my heart, in my stomach. Good for me, to know this!”
  • Loved the river where he tried to drown himself and decides to stay there a while

The Ferryman

  • But out of all secrets of the river, he today only saw one, this one touched his soul. He saw that this water ran and ran, incessantly it ran, and was nevertheless always there, was always at all times the same and yet new in every moment
  • Siddhartha asks the Ferryman who drove him over the river years ago to be his new mentor. The Ferryman accepts and they live and work together
  • “Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has existence and is present.” 
  • People are migrating to go the Gotama because he is dying. Kamala, on her way to the Buddha, gets bitten by a snake and gets taken care of by Siddhartha. He meets his new son

The Son

  • Young Siddhartha is used to a different lifestyle but Old Siddhartha does not force anything – “You know that ‘soft’ is stronger than ‘hard’, Water stronger than rocks, love stronger than force.
  • The boy took advantage and Siddhartha could not let go
  • The boy eventually ran away and Siddhartha decided that he must go after him
  • He chased after him to the city and after seeing Kamala’s old garden, he relived his old, pleasure seeking life and felt the disgust but then meditated and Vasudeva came to take him back to their shared hut
Om
  • Siddhartha finally realized his goal was to be able, at all times, to feel and inhale the oneness. Knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness
  • Siddhartha found Om in the river, the oneness and there he realized he had to stop fighting his fate and stopped suffering
  • Once Siddhartha found this perfection, Vasudeva left into the forests forever
Govinda
  • “Wisdom cannot be passed on. Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness.” 
  • And this is now a teaching you will laugh about – love, oh Govinda, seems to me to be the most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.”
  • Govinda experiences oneness when he kisses Siddhartha’s forehead and then understands.
  • The perfected ones are always smiling

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